Visual Intelligences Research Project

Symposia : The Documentation of Fine Art Processes and Practices : Paul Harper

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Articulating Craft
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PAUL HARPER, PhD candidate, London Metropolitan University

Articulating Craft

‘...sophisticated writing on textiles by figures like (Pamela) Johnson and Sarat Marharaj has helped to give a context for equally sophisticated work...’ (Tanya Harrod, Afterword, Crafts 162 January/February 2000 pp.37-41)

Critical writing has the potential to shape practice into something that is more easily written or talked about within it’s own conventions.  It tends to the belief that meaning is, first and foremost, something that sentences have.  That meaning is principally to be found in language, in words contextualized in sentences.

The primary critical and theoretical focus in the crafts has become the craft object as site of meaning and main area of significance. This essentially literary approach regards the object as something to be 'read'.  I believe that this focus neglects those things that define craft as intrinsically connected to the material world, to experience and to practice: to actions, and to things. In my research, as well as the craft object and its meanings, I want to consider the craftsperson's intimate connection to materials, process, techniques, forms, and the traditions associated with these. I also want to consider the context in which things are made and consumed.

I believe that there is a need to develop research tools that make evident inadequately theorised aspects of practice and which contribute to an expanded and enriched discourse about craft. In this presentation I intend to demonstrate the potential of digital media, not just as a tool for documenting practice, but also for revealing the ways in which the context and the processes of practice contribute to meaning.  I will outline the critical context for my research and show excerpts from a draft edit of my first case study film.  I will discuss some of the methodological questions that have arisen during the filming and editing of the material. 

Paul Harper studied furniture at Buckinghamshire College of Art and Design and completed the MA Applied Arts and Visual Culture at London Guildhall University.  Since 1999 he has worked in arts management.   As part of his work for the Arts Council, South West ALIAS scheme he has organised a series of symposia entitled Practice and Reflection, aimed at encouraging practitioners to contribute to critical discourse around craft.  He is currently studying for his PhD at London Metropolitan University, which is concerned with developing a theoretical framework for craft practice and exploring the potential of digital video as a methodological tool to aid the analysis of practice, by which aspects of craft practice can be more roundly externalized for research, reflective and curatorial purposes.